What You DON’T Need To Know, To Innovate

Soon into a new job, my newly minted college graduate daughter was asked to help plan an IT requirements identification and definition meeting. Her degree was in human growth and development. She had researched what she could about requirements, but was disoriented and didn’t know where to start.

Being Da-aad (yes, pronounce that as a two-syllable word), I suggested she think about how human development theories and models applied. Being my daughter, I won’t repeat her initial reaction. But, within a couple days she had designed a requirements conversation based on a theory of child imagination. Not only did it work, it worked well. Her exercises helped users unthink decades of experience with the existing system, and rethink future need and use.

My daughter didn’t know it, but she had innovated. She applied a familiar mental map to an unfamiliar situation, a technique from one field to another, modifying its use. This is something innovators do all the time.

Innovation has been studied for decades and has a large body of theory, frameworks, models, methods, lessons learned, and best practices. You might know some of it, or you might know very little. It doesn’t matter.

Innovation is also tightly coupled with many other disciplines about which you will know something – strategy, leadership, management, change management, decision making, collaboration and conflict resolution, psychology, communication, program and project management, customer service, and more. And these are general disciplines to which we could add HR, finance, accounting, big data, cloud, mobility – any area about which organizations innovate. Innovation is so multi-disciplinary, you know more about it than you realize.

Apply what you know with the following principles in mind, and you can launch and run an effective innovation effort.

  • Remember what innovation is about. Innovation means doing something different to get a better outcome or add value for your customer. Anything you do to achieve that is innovation – no matter how you get there. Start and end with this in mind. And don’t lose sight of it along the way.
  • Target learning, not change. Innovation involves business model change, technology change, or both. But setting out to change an organization is fraught with challenges. Setting out to learn? Not so much! Start with what you know and plan to learn more – about your customer, the products and services you provide, your business model, your technology model, new technology, etc. Innovation ideas and opportunities will emerge.
  • Innovate only as much as makes sense. We commonly associate innovation with “game changing” products or services like smart phones and social media sites. But telemedicine for rural Veterans is innovative, as is crowdsourcing flu or food borne illness, or surveying property with a drone. Each involves some technology change, and some business model change. They’re not game-changing in the grand sense of that phrase, but they changed the game for someone by adding value.

Think you don’t know enough about innovation to try it? Think again! Your knowledge and experience give you your familiar mental map as a starting place. Members of your team will have theirs. If you’re open to connecting what you know to what you learn, you’ll connect people and mental maps to innovate effectively.

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